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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dead Men Tell No Tales, and Partial Atonement 

Followup. Another take on the whole "baptism of the dead" thing, starting with the "pro" argument, taken from meetmormonmissionaries.org (no, it's not a dating service):

Death and the Spirit World

Eventually, we will all die, but death is only a step in God’s plan. The Bible teaches us that after death “the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Jesus called this place “paradise” (see Luke 23:43). Many people confuse this with Heaven, but paradise is only a temporary resting place until we are resurrected. The Book of Mormon teaches us:

"[T]here is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth" (Alma 40:21, pg 309)

The state of righteous, repentant souls is paradise, while the unrighteous, unrepentant souls are in spiritual prison (see 1 Peter 3:19-20). Here, while waiting for the resurrection, the righteous souls teach the Gospel to those who died without hearing about it. Peter taught that the “gospel [was] preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Peter 4:6).

Jeff Lindsay expands further:

I wish to proclaim that God is just and will not send a Chinese peasant or an Indian beggar to hell simply because he or she had the misfortune of never hearing about Christ. Yet we know that salvation is only through Christ. The resolution is this: deceased beings, dwelling as spirits and awaiting the time of resurrection and judgment, will be given the opportunity to hear and accept the message of the Gospel. Indeed, God "will [desires to] have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim. 2:4)

We get some insights into the work of salvation among those who have already died in 1 Peter 3:18-20, which reports that Christ, while dead, "went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient." The passage then indicates that people from the time of Noah were included among those that Christ preached to. The preaching to deceased beings is also mentioned again in 1 Peter 4:6: "For for this cause was the gospel preached to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." This suggests that there is still accountability for the acts in the flesh (our mortal existence), and that they will be judged, but they can still gain access to the grace of Christ and repent and come unto Him.

This concept is consistent with Paul's writing about the judgment in Romans 2. In verse 4, he indicates that the goodness of God leads us to repentance, helping us (in verse 5) to avoid wrath on the day of the righteous judgment of God (not arbitrary and unfair!). Verse 6 reminds us that every man will receive according to his deeds, with "glory, honour, and peace to every man that worketh good" (v. 10), "for there is no respect of persons with God." Respect of persons (partiality) is what God would have if he damned some just because they never had the chance to learn of Christ. Verses 12 through 15 continue this theme, indicating that when men are judged for their mortal lives, it will be according to what they knew of God's ways - and according to their conscience (a gift of God to all people, in my view). Verse 16 states that the Gentiles who knew not God's law "shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another."

Without getting into the theology of my particular denomination, let me simply say that I have good reason to believe that God is just, loves all his children, and will be fair in providing an opportunity for all that truly desire His righteousness to gain access to the grace of Christ, if they will accept Him and covenant with Him. Many will not accept Him, as we see in great evidence today. But God reaches out to each of His children and implores them to follow Him. Toward that end, I believe that Christ established a tremendous program of missionary work on the other side of the veil - in the spirit world - so that the Gospel message will go forth to His children of every nation and every era.

As I previously mentioned, I received a letter which quoted two verses, I Peter 3:19 and I Peter 4:6:

1 Peter 3:19

19By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;

King James Version (KJV)
Public Domain
1 Peter 4:6

6For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

King James Version (KJV)
Public Domain

Now of course you have to assume that these verses are authoritative. They may not be, as Brian Phelps notes:

I understand the Bible as we know it today is a compromise document. It is not complete. Fortunately, in my experience, the heavens are not closed and He continues to provide revelation to us. I believe in the Bible insofar as it is correctly translated.

So perhaps these particular verses are dead wrong. However, it appears that Mormons believe that these two particular verses are translated correctly.

But can a theology be built on two verses, while ignoring the rest of the Bible? Perhaps. For example, take these verses:

Genesis 4:23-24 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

23 Lamech said to his wives,
"Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed [a] a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.

24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times."


Genesis 4:23 Or I will kill

Hey, those are Bible verses, so I guess polygamy and vengeance are endorsed practices.

(You could also cited Genesis 19:31-32, but I won't.)

And I guess that this is an endorsed practice also:

1 Corinthians 15:29 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

29Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?

But it is wise to take three isolated verses - I Corinthians 15:29, I Peter 3:19, and I Peter 4:6 - and tie them together while ignoring everything in between? Perhaps not:

The impulse to conceive of verses as independent, isolated units of meaning is strong, despite efforts on the part of Biblical scholars to discourage this.

As much as any sentence in any book, any statement in the Bible is designed to be understood in its own context. Interpretation of isolated verses often leads to misunderstandings that would be clear if the same words were studied in context.

A fortiori this applies for parts of verses. For example, an oft-quoted phrase from the Bible says: "There is no God."

The complete sentence, from Psalm 14:1, reads, "The fool hath said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" The meaning, in context, is quite different from the meaning, in isolation, of the last four words.

It may be tempting to assume that short quotations and quick snippets can be interpreted, applied, and utilized independently of their context. However, when the Bible was written, it was meant to be deeply pondered, sequentially studied, and fully considered.

So let's start with I Peter 3:19, the verse that talks about Christ speaking to the spirits in prison. One Mormon source (Jeff Lindsay) refers to I Peter 3:18-20, while another source looks at I Peter 3:19-20.

I'm gonna look at I Peter 3:17-22:

1 Peter 3:17-22 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

17It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19through whom[a] also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge[b] of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.


1 Peter 3:19 Or alive in the spirit, 19 through which
1 Peter 3:21 Or response

So what do we learn about preaching to the spirits in prison?
  • Christ's preaching to the spirits (small s) was through the Spirit (large S).

  • The spirits disobeyed long ago, in the days of Noah.

And we learn when Christ preached to the spirits - actually we don't.

But we learn something else about Christ. "Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous." In other words, Christ's atonement was complete.

But am I guilty of taking an isolated verse (in this case, I Peter 3:18) and drawing a false conclusion? Well, let's see what else the book of I Peter says about sin. Here's I Peter 2:20-24:

1 Peter 2:20-24 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22"He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth."[a] 23When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.


1 Peter 2:22 Isaiah 53:9

So we have died to sins. But I Peter 4:1-2 says

1 Peter 4:1-2 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

1Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. 2As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

This suggests a life-changing transformation. In essence, I Peter continuously says that the sinless Christ died for sins once for all, so that sin is dead in us. And this doctrine is not peculiar to I Peter. Here's the beginning of Romans 6:

Romans 6:1-11 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

8Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.


Romans 6:6 Or be rendered powerless

And this from I Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

1Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,


1 Corinthians 15:3 Or you at the first

Also see Hebrews 9:11-28, which not only talks about the complete effectiveness of Christ's blood, but also mentions this in relation to our life after death:

Hebrews 9:27-28 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

So what point would it make to baptize dead people?

Anyway, despite these verses (and many others) about the complete atonement of Christ, the LDS church concludes:

Jesus Christ did what only He could do in atoning for our sins. To make His Atonement fully effective in our individual lives, we must have faith in Christ, repent of our sins, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, obey God's commandments, and strive to become like Him. As we do these things through His Atonement, we can return to live with Him and our Heavenly Father forever.

But the Mormons aren't the only ones who are alleged to believe in partial atonement. Here's an excerpt from an article criticizing some of the participants in a Greg Laurie crusade:

If joining forces with the Roman Catholic Church is not enough to cause alarm bells to ring, then perhaps we should speak about the Seventh-Day Adventists who were a part of Harvest 03 as well. As the Presbyterian spokesman said, “We have every form of Christian church – whether it’s Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, Seventh Day Adventist – they’re all united in this event.”

What kind of ecumenical deception is this? Since when did the Seventh-Day Adventists become a “Christian church” as the Presbyterian man claims? I thought Christians were supposed to be people who were disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ?...

Seventh‑Day Adventism arose from the aftermath of the Second Adventist Movement of the mid‑1800s which was made up of the followers of William Miller, a man who falsely prophesied that Christ would return on October 22, 1844. After the embarrassing failure of the prophecy new groups formed. One group was the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, more commonly known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Another was the Seventh Day Adventists, formed by the followers of a false prophetess named Mrs. Ellen G. White (1827‑1915).

In the name “Seventh-Day Adventist”, which was officially adopted in 1860 by Mrs. White, “Seventh‑day” refers to their adherence to the Old Testament Sabbath, of observing Saturday as the day of rest and worship. “Adventist” refers to the SDA belief that they are the fulfillment of prophecies pertaining to the latter days remnant and the coming of Christ.

The Seventh-Day Adventist’s source of authority is the prophecies and writings of Mrs. White, which are exalted as God‑inspired in the SDA movement. She was believed to possess the gift of prophecy and to be an inspired commentator of Scripture....

In agreement with Ellen G. White, the SDA movement teaches that, though we are saved by grace, we are kept in a position of grace by the observance of the Law. Christ only paid a “partial atonement” in His sacrifice upon the Cross of Calvary. SDAs teach that one must keep the Old Testament dietary and ceremonial laws, paying particular attention to keep the Saturday Sabbath and the Ten Commandments, and most importantly, making sure to faithfully tithe, in order to retain their salvation.

It makes you wonder what all the Sunday worshippers of Hunter Harvest have in such common with the SDAs so as to unite with them in an effort to evangelize Newcastle for the Lord Jesus Christ, doesn’t it?

Again, the question I would like to ask is how many of the young people who came to Harvest 03, and who responded to the altar call after being thoroughly wound up by deafening rock music, thinking this is what being a disciple of Christ is all about, got “plugged into” a local Seventh-Day Adventist church by the follow-up team? How many of these trusting young people were sent off to the false SDA church to be indoctrinated with heresies that will lead them to worship foreign gods? And which of the leaders of these cooperating churches will stand up and be accountable for this gross error?

And then there's the Watchtower people:

Perhaps it is this feeling of the unfairness of the death of Jesus Christ that causes many groups, including the Watchtower Society, to reject the Bible concept of a personal and completed atonement for our sins. What does this mean? It means that Jesus paid our full debt of sin in his own blood. Salvation is by grace through faith alone in this completed work of atonement.

This idea is often rejected as being unfair: It seems too easy for guilty sinners. They get off scot-free, and it seems too hard on Jesus.

Consequently, many groups, including the Watchtower Society, prefer to believe in a partial works atonement. What does this mean? Simply put, it is the idea that Jesus made the down payment for sin but that we have to keep up the installments if we are to be saved.

What exactly is an installment payment? How do we recognize it? An installment payment (in the context of this discussion) is anything that we supposedly have to keep doing in order to be saved. Or it may be is something that we supposedly can't do if we are to be saved.

"Installment payments" may be such things as praying several times a day, giving alms or refraining from smoking. They are often commendable works or activities or perhaps the avoiding of "evil" works or activities. In You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (p.250), the Watchtower Society says that "more than faith is needed." Some of the "installment payments" the Watchtower Society considers essential are familiar to every Jehovah's Witness. They include the following:

--You must witness each month (suggested 10 hours).

--You must attend Watchtower meetings.

--You must obey "God's organization."

--You must read the "right" literature.

--You must not read the "wrong" literature.

--You must be persecuted for Jehovah.

This view of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ creates several problems. First, no one, not even the Watchtower Society, can give us a complete list of "installment payments." Second, even if they make a list of "installment payments" for us, they can't tell us for sure how many of them are enough.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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